Missouri Auditor Dies in 'Apparent Suicide'

by | February 27, 2015

By Jason Hancock and Dave Helling

Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich _ a lifelong high achiever who appeared poised to make a strong run to be the state's next governor _ died Thursday in St. Louis in an apparent suicide.

He was 54.

Clayton Police Chief Kevin Murphy said paramedics responded to an emergency call from his home that came in at 9:48 a.m. Thursday. Schweich was then taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead from a single gunshot wound.

"What we know at this point," Murphy said, "suggests an apparent suicide."

An autopsy is scheduled for Friday morning.

Murphy declined to say if authorities found a note or any communication from Schweich. He said family members are cooperating with the investigation.

He would not disclose specifics about the weapon involved in the shooting or where Schweich was wounded.

At least one family member _ believed to be Schweich's wife _ was at home at the time of the incident.

Schweich, a Republican, began the day by calling The Associated Press and St. Louis Post-Dispatch to invite reporters to his home in the St. Louis suburb of Clayton for a 2:30 p.m. interview. He apparently called both news organizations minutes before the 911 call was placed from his home.

The topic of that interview, according to the editors of the Post-Dispatch, was to be Schweich's belief that John Hancock, the recently elected chairman of the Missouri Republican Party, had spread rumors about him.

Schweich's office in Jefferson City released a routine audit of the Department of Corrections at 10 a.m. Then at 11:18 a.m., the auditor's office said in a statement that Schweich had been taken to a hospital for "a medical situation."

Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, canceled a St. Louis appearance following that announcement as concern for Schweich's condition spread quickly across Missouri.

As news began to trickle in to the Missouri Capitol, moods turned somber. Glassy-eyed lawmakers and staff wandered the halls, wading through school groups and tourists and asking anyone _ including reporters _ for any tidbit of information about Schweich and his condition.

Schweich's office confirmed his death at 1:30 p.m.

"It is with great sadness that I confirm the passing of Missouri state Auditor Tom Schweich today," spokesman Spence Jackson said in an email. "Please keep in mind his wife Kathy and two children."

Nixon ordered state flags to fly at half-staff, calling Schweich "a brilliant, devoted and accomplished public servant who dedicated his career to making Missouri and the world a better place."

A prayer service was quickly organized in the House chamber.

"At times like this, we're a family," said Monsignor Robert Kurwicki, the Missouri House chaplain, surrounded in the dimly lit House chamber by lawmakers, staff and lobbyists, as well as Nixon and Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder.

Statements of condolences poured in from around the state.

"This is a devastating loss for our state as we have now lost a leader and a man of the highest integrity, character and dedication," said House Speaker John Diehl, a St. Louis County Republican.

Catherine Hanaway, the former U.S. attorney and state House speaker whom Schweich would have likely faced in a GOP primary for governor next year, said in a statement that she was "deeply saddened by today's news."

"Auditor Schweich was an extraordinary man with an extraordinary record of service to our state and nation," she said. "Our state and nation are better places because of his tireless dedication to duty and service."

Republican U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt called Schweich "very smart, very capable, outstanding at his job, and a good friend." U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, said he was a "good man, and a dedicated public servant, who served our country in so many capacities with distinction and honor."

Schweich was elected as state auditor in 2010 and was re-elected without Democratic opposition last November. Last month he announced his candidacy for governor in 2016.

In recent weeks, however, the race for governor had turned increasingly rough.

Schweich framed his campaign around the idea that corruption was rampant in Jefferson City _ and he pointed to his rival for the GOP nomination as the prime example. He accused Hanaway of being bought and paid for by conservative megadonor Rex Sinquefield, who has given roughly $1 million to her campaign.

Last weekend, as Republicans gathered in Kansas City for the state Republican Party's annual conference, a radio ad hit the airwaves attacking Schweich as a weak candidate who could be "easily confused for the deputy sheriff of Mayberry."

The ad was paid for by a political action committee called Citizens for Fairness in Missouri. Schweich's spokesman said the ad had upset the auditor.

This week, rumors swirled around the Missouri Capitol that Schweich planned to call a news conference to accuse Hancock, the newly elected chairman of the Missouri GOP, of making anti-Semitic remarks and spreading rumors that Schweich is Jewish.

Schweich told a Post-Dispatch editor that he was Episcopalian with a Jewish grandfather and suspected references were made to his Jewish heritage to damage his standing with Republicans in the primary for governor. Schweich had made similar complaints to the AP.

Hancock and his wife quickly dashed to Jefferson City on Tuesday to confront Schweich, and the rumored news conference was never held. Hancock vehemently denies making anti-Semitic statements, and says that while he may have referred to Schweich as Jewish at some point that it was simply a mistake.

Hancock did not respond to phone calls Thursday afternoon seeking comment. In a statement released earlier in the day, Hancock said he was "in utter shock at the news of Tom Schweich's tragic passing. Tom will be remembered as a tenacious, energetic, effective elected official who worked tirelessly on behalf of the citizens of this state and this nation."

An appointment to fill the auditor's job would fall to Nixon.

If Schweich's death is ultimately ruled a suicide, it would be the second time in Missouri history that a statewide elected official committed suicide while in office. The first was on Feb. 9, 1844, when Gov. Thomas Reynolds shot himself dead.

W.H. Holmes was the only other state auditor to die in office; he died March 31, 1953.

(c)2015 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.)